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Monk to Done, my GTD approach

waldir.leoncio Pro says:

I've been lifehacking for quite a few years (maybe decades, if you consider the time before the term "lifehack" first appeared) and I've read about and tested quite a few productivity methods, but none of them has ever stuck for so long. In a matter of months I'd get sick of a method and would go search for another one. Just to name the two most famous: GTD is, in my humble opinion, too complicated and high-maintenance; ZTD is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't improve much. After years studying task/project management methods and adapting them to fit my style, I've come up with a system I have found to be optimal --- for me, at least --- and I'd like to share it with all the community. I'm a long-time RTM user, so this method naturally came to be 100% compatible with RTM.

I've never cared to name this method, but if I had to, I'd call it something like Monk To Done, since I think it is basically a simplification of ZTD, which in turn is a simplification of GTD. So, without further ado, here it is.

1. Locations
Yeah, I'm starting with locations because I think it is important to get it out of the way before everything else. I'll treat RTM's locations kinda like Allen's "contexts".

Go to your RTM locations page and create an entry for every place on which you usually check for tasks. Some examples are:
- home
- work
- downtown
- phone
- computer

As you can see, I'm using the locations page to enter both real and virtual locations. This shouldn't be a problem even if you use the RTM smartphone apps' location-aware capabilities. If you want, just pin virtual locations to some place you're not likely to be, like the south pole of the middle of the ocean. The important thing is to have all locations on one place. This will make it much easier later, trust me.

By the way, "computer" basically means "internet". Unlike other methods, there's no problem if virtual locations overlap physical locations. For example, you can be at home and by the computer, just as you can be at work and by the computer or downtown and on the phone.

One other thing. Having a task cloud is very important, so please go to your settings page and turn it on before proceeding.

2. Tasks: the basics
Now for the cool part. Every task you enter will have basically two elements: task_name AND (due_date OR location).

This is the most important thing to learn about this method. Every task you enter will have one of those two structures:
- task_name due_date
- task_name location

To make it clearer (it's THAT important), here are some examples using RTM's smartadd:
- Take out trash ^tomorrow
- Buy christmas gifts ^24/12
- Steam-clean sofa @home
- Call plumber to fix toilet @phone
- Figure out distance between Paris and Dakar @computer

So what's the point of giving each task either a due date or a location, but not both? The idea is that tasks with a due date will eventually appear on your Today list, so you don't have to go searching for them. When it is time to do them, they'll come to you. Before they're due, pay no mind to them.

Tasks without due dates are tasks you don't care to do at any specific date, but only when you feel like doing them. That's why locations and the tag cloud are important. When you're at home and you feel like tackling some tasks, just open RTM and check your "home" location. It'll show you everything you can accomplish without bothering you with tasks with a set due date. You'll only get those tasks you would "someday/maybe" do.

RTM lets you set only one location per task, and this is not a problem at all! If you need to do something at your home computer, for example, just use @home, because @computer would just mean any computer with internet. If you need to call someone and for whatever reason you can only do this when you're downtown, locate the task with @downtown, not with @phone. It may seem strange at first, but I've never had one problem with that and I honestly doubt you'll have one. Treat virtual locations just like physical ones and just figure out where you need to be in order to complete the task and you'll be fine.

2. Tasks: advanced
If your task is a repeating one, if it involves a URL or if you'd like to attach notes to it, by all means, go for it! Here are some examples.
- Check e-mail ^today *after day http://www.email.com
- But that book about that thing on that book webstore @computer http://www.youknowwhere.com
- Workout ^monday *every mon, wed, fri

What about tags? Well, I only use them for one thing --- which I'll talk about later ---, but I don't think It'll hurt if you REALLY need to use them to group your tasks in some way. Just try to keep tagging to a minimum, a busy and overwhelming tag cloud will just make it harder for you to find the locations you want.

3. Projects
Ideally, all your tasks are going to stay on your Inbox. But some tasks really need to be broken down into subtasks or they just won't be completed. Unfortunately, RTM doesn't support subtasks, so what we can do to work around this is to create lists for those complex tasks (aka Projects). Tasks added to RTM regarding that project will have one of the following basic structures:
- task_name #project_name ^due_date
- task_name #project_name @location

I like to add one special task on each project. It doesn't have a due date of a location, just a name and a priority of 1. It is the mission statement for that project. For instance, if I have a project called "Book" (short one-word names are better because they won't clutter your screen and will make task adding through smartadd a lot smoother), I'd add the following task to it.
- Mission: Have my book written and published !1

I'll give it a high priority (hence the "!1") just so it appears on top of all other tasks on that list. It is a reminder of the ultimate objective of that project. When I complete the mission, I can delete the list and move on.

If you want to give the mission a due date in order to give yourself extra motivation, be my guest!

4. Priorities
Notwithstanding mission statements, I barely use priorities. I only give a task a priority when I want to make sure it stands out from the crowd, as something I really want to accomplish as soon as I wake up and check my todo list for the day. Try to keep this manual prioritizing to a minimum, or the real priorities just won't get your attention. Your real priority should be to finish the tasks on your Today list as soon as possible so you can have the rest of the day to do whatever you want. If you find yourself overwhelmed by an exceptionally long Today list, consider postponing or just plain deleting some of those tasks. Remember that being productive is not doing a lot of things, but doing things that matter.

5. Next actions
Some tasks don't have a due date, but are dependant on the completion of other tasks. This means you don't want them showing around on your screen before it's time to act upon them. GTD focuses on prerequisite tasks, requiring the user to tag them with a "next action" label. I like to treat this matter in the opposite way.

Think about it. Next actionable tasks are usually the majority. Dependable tasks are, therefore, the minority. Isn't it much easier to tag just the minority?

Tasks that don't have a due date and are dependable on the completion of other tasks are entered like this:
- task_name #dependable ^review_date

The insertion of a "review date" will eliminate the need of a weekly review, making your life so much easier. Choose a review date with which you feel comfortable. One week, one month, sunday... When the day comes, that task will show up on your "Today" list just like any other task for the day, only it will stick out with that "dependable" tag, meaning you will look at it and decide if it's still a dependable task. If it is, just choose another review date. If it isn't, edit the task. Remove the "dependable" tag and add a location (or a due date, if it turns out to have one).

6. Smart lists
One last thing. RTM's webapp has this Overview page, which I really dislike because it doesn't let you cross items off the list without leaving that page and it separates Today and Overdue tasks.

The solution to this is very simple: create and save a smartlist with the search parameter "dueBefore:tomorrow".

7. That's it
So that's the method I ended up with after several adaptations from more famous systems like GTD or ZTD. It's been the only method which I've been able to stick with for a long time because it makes entering tasks very simple and automates task managing to a unique level. I hope more people will find it useful.

Posted at 11:25am on February 19, 2011

quilgc says:

I agree with you entirely regarding GTD. Your system I am going to give a try. It is elegantly simple yet powerful. Too many times we get bogged down in trying to take control to the nth degree instead of solving the problem of DOING TASKS and not MISSING THEM.
Congratulations on a system that works (I think - theoretically for me so far). The beauty of a program like RTM is that it can be adapted to your style of managing tasks which is better than being forced to the programmers thinking.
You indeed could be my RTM hero; better get the cape ready.
I would really like RTM to have an Outline style of putting in tasks. Could be limited to 5 levels. I love outlines for thought clarity and grouping.
Thanks for your post - most grateful.

Posted 3 years ago

mandakaru says:

Congratulations for the system. I will give it a try. By the way, how your approach would deal with task delegation?

p.s I´m Brazilian and your name seems to be a brazilian name. Where are you from?

Posted 3 years ago

solari says:

I'm going to try this... Thanks!

Question: The #dependable tag/list -- how do you note what action the task is depending on or is that not really necessary?

Ray

Posted 2 years ago

solari says:

P.S. Would you file @Waiting under dependables, too?

Posted 2 years ago

emily (Remember The Milk) says:

Hi Waldir,

Thanks for sharing your set-up! I just wanted to let you know that you're this week's Tips & Tricks Tuesday winner. We've upgraded your Remember The Milk account to have a free year of Pro. :)

Posted 2 years ago

waldir.leoncio Pro says:

@quilgc: Thanks, man! Your comment has made my day! :)

@emily: This goes for you too! I've just woken up and came across your e-mail. Talk about a good start for the day!

@mandakaru: I'm from Brasília, but am currently living in Campinas. When I delegate a task, I just add a task called "Ask John when he's going to send in that report" with a due date for *the day after* we had agreed he would deliver the report. If it is crucial that he delivers the report on time, I set the due date to a couple of days before the deadline, so I can let him know I'm expecting it. Once again, the important thing is to get that task out of your sight until it is time to act upon it.

@solari: About "Waiting" tags, please refer to my reply to mandakaru above. ;) I believe the #dependable task rule applies normally to these cases. About the dependable tag, I just never felt the necessity to note the task to which it is a prerequisite, but if you do feel that need, my "off the top of my head" solution would be to write it as "First task > Second task" or something.

I'm so glad you all liked my system! Here's hope more people get to know it so it can be further improved (i.e. simplified) and streamlined.

Posted 2 years ago

brian.reilly says:

Is there any reason why you use locations instead of tags, especially for the virtual locations such as "phone" and "computer"?

I'm experimenting with using priorities for dependent tasks. Once I identify the next task for a project, I give it priority 1. I can also optionally identify the next follow-up tasks and give them priorities 2 and 3 (allowing multiple tasks with these priorities in case I could choose either and want to decide later). Then, I can use [not] priority:none in a search to decide whether or not I want to see dependent tasks. Since priorities are so easy to set (with keyboard shortcuts), this seems easier to me than managing tags.

Posted 2 years ago

christopher.weible Pro says:

@brian.reilly I can take a good guess at that: simplicity. This way you have all your contexts in a single list and not on separate location and tag lists. If I don't implement the whole of Waldir's system, I'll at least be implementing that much.

Posted 2 years ago

g3rmanchoco says:

Thanks for your idea and thank you RTM for making this the Tips & Tricks Tuesday Winner. I have just had a yearning for more organization. My mind has been stuck on GTD for the past 3 years and it hasn't worked for me (Ghosttaste.tumbler.com for the brief statement on why). This hopefully will work for me, I've had RTM for a bit now and have also struggled in how to intergrate it into more than just a list tool. Again Thanks!

Posted 2 years ago

micah.wimmer Pro says:

So, I would like to know a good answer to brian's question as well. I know that it is for simplicity but if you click on a tag you get a listing of events that only pertain to that tag. If you use the task cloud it'll show you both: locations and tags to quick click for a list. So... Though I also use the location feature, I mostly search by tag and not location. But I can do the same the other way too. It doesn't seem any more simple by choosing either one. Can we just say it's personal choice?

Posted 2 years ago

trois.singes says:

As for me, I don't use RTM Locations but RTM tags beginning with '@' : #@home for example. That's because Locations are not displayed on the tasks lists, whereas Tags are.

Posted 2 years ago

waldir.leoncio Pro says:

@brian.reilly, just like christopher.weible said, the reason for that is simplicity. As I add tasks, I don't want to have to stop and think about whether a certain location is physical of virtual and then add "#" or "@" accordingly (or use different fields for adding those locations when I'm not using smart add). Giving all kinds of contexts the same treatment makes task adding and filtering easier for me and I don't see any drawbacks so far.

Your idea to use priorities to determine next actions sound great, it could work better than my idea for projects with more complex dependency structures. I'll give it a try myself!

Posted 2 years ago

oyvdahl says:

Interesting post.
My first thought is that this system will only work if you have very few tasks.
I have about 200 tasks on my list and therefore the distinction between someday-maybe and tasks I have decided to do is very important. Otherwise I would be overwhelmed every time I tried to do something.

Also I am having trouble with choosing between due date and location. For example, I need to buy my girlfriend a birthday present. This is due no later than the day before her birthday, but I know I should do something about it earlier. By having both location and due date it will appear on my @Home list every time I open it and if I haven't done anything about it before the due date, I will get a reminder so that I am sure it will be done.

How do you solve this?

Posted 2 years ago

waldir.leoncio Pro says:

@oyvdahl, thanks for your comment. I usually have around 100 tasks on my list, and that's because my life is a lot simpler nowadays. A couple of years ago I used to clock around 150 tasks and I used practically the same system back then, so I truly believe it can work for users with lots of tasks.

Of course, that's just my experience, I acknowledge that it's a system that won't be ideal for everybody just like GTD and ZTD didn't fit my needs 100% even though it is perfect for a lot of people.

Your birthday present story is a perfect example of a big flaw on that so-called "most important rule" of the system, and I've been there too. What I would do (and did when I faced such a problem) is exactly what you proposed: I would add a task "Buy gf present ^b-day @home". I know, I know, shame on me, but it's not so bad an exception, because that's the type of task that you would want to see any given day, whenever you peeked your @home list. What I really want to avoid with that "either due date or location" rule is that filtering tasks by location shows a bunch of tasks that you don't want to see until the due date.

Another solution would be to use "fake due dates", i.e., insert a due date 1 week before her birthday and then keep postponing it until you finally buy the gift. The problem with that is that you would have to keep in mind that you can only postpone that task until her birthday, and I believe having to keep mental notes of things defeats the purpose of using an automated task management system.

Anyway, if only RTM would let us work with start dates, that problem could be better handled.

Posted 2 years ago

i_dave says:

@car

for shopping and errands and stuff like that

Posted 2 years ago

ed.walker says:

Really neat. A question though. I sync RTM with Outlook. I'm able to sync lists and tags. But how would I sync locations to Outlook?

Posted 2 years ago

bill.fuller Pro says:

Thanks for the great system layout. I've started using it in the past few days and I'm already feeling the success that comes from just focusing on the tasks I want to get done today and getting them knocked out. I have one scenario / question, though:

What do you do about tasks that go from "location" to "date" importance? For example, you have an idea that you want to talk to John about at some time, so you enter "Call John about the business opportunity @Phone"

Meanwhile, something has changed (such as you needing to make a decision within a critical time period). How, in your system, do you catch this task and convert it into something like "Call John about the business opportunity ^Due_Date" ?

It seems to me that this could get lost if you didn't happen to see it in your "@phone" list and connect with the fact that it needs to be done by a certain date.

Thanks!

Posted 2 years ago

tjasper says:

Always great to hear a variation on the GTD system. I think you will find that most successful 'GTDers' have modified David Allens system to work for them. Even David Allen himself has said you ultimately will engineer your own personal GTD system.

Posted 2 years ago

flewtist Pro says:

It's an interesting concept, but I don't see that it deals with two important aspects: pre-working tasks, and balance.

With tasks that have a due date that could be done before that, you will have no way to find them and work them before the due date. Let's say you have to make your yearly physical appointment. You set it to be a repeating task with a due date of 8/1 so you have that reminder. You don't HAVE to do it that day, though, but it can't be whenever you feel like it. However, for 8/1 that year, you have 30 things on the list, and the physical falls off. If you could see that when you are on the phone some time that week you could make that phone call whenever, but to remove the due date would eliminate the reminder.

Planning is an important part of any productivity system , and that means that everything must be balanced to meet your abilities and time. This system is just a get everything done task list processing system, without looking at balancing or planning. Or have I missed something?

Posted 2 years ago

jelgie says:

Really an awesome tip. Packed with utility. Thank you!

Posted 2 years ago

larrinski Pro says:

Thank you for sharing this! I have made a few tweaks to simplify my GTD set up because of it! Muchly appreciated.

The only thing I don't like about it is that all your tasks stay in the Inbox. For me I prefer to dump everything into the Inbox, then process them til the Inbox is empty. I move all my processed tasks to a list labelled ".". That way I have a list of unprocessed tasks in the Inbox and the ones that I know I've dealt with are in ".".

Posted 2 years ago

kerrpe says:

@oyvdahl - my solution for this has served me pretty well. My task would be called "Bob's bday Sept 1 ^Aug 15 *every year" - that way, the reminder starts showing up two weeks ahead of time, but also clearly shows me the date of Bob's birthday.

Nice post, Waldir - your system seems well thought out.

Posted 2 years ago

evanmicahcollier says:

I have implemented this. Thanks for the tip, Waldir. Question: my Inbox as a list has disappeared (i.e., I can never see all the tasks in a flat list). Is this a user error? (Quite possible!) or a normal part of this system? Another way of putting it is, the only list I can view is the "dueBefore:tomorrow" overview list.

Posted 2 years ago

evanmicahcollier says:

Okay, scratch the above (Except for the kudos to Waldir, of course). Logging out, then in brought back my inbox as a list. Odd.

Posted 2 years ago

franky99 Pro says:

@ed.walker I got the same question... Interesting option this and I like to try. But since i sync with Outlook (@work) I am a bit worried it ll mix things up.

Posted 2 years ago

writing_under_the_stars says:

hiya, thanks for this, was a really good starting off point for me in my RTM journey! I have slightly adapted your plan, for the smartlists I'm using tags INSTEAD of locations, I find this works better for me. In regards to 'next actions' if a task is dependant on a prior task, I'll put it in a static list, then when I've done the prior task I then tag/date it. In regards to using dates/locations, you can set a filter to put both location, AND only due that day/week whatever so you don't get bombarded. Really great guide though, thankyou again!

Posted 2 years ago

writing_under_the_stars says:

P.S obviously this will/won't work for different people, I just felt I needed to adapt it to suit me better :)

Posted 2 years ago

ellis.lindsey says:

I just signed up, so these suggests will be a great help.

Posted 2 years ago

florisvaneck says:

It's a shame Remember The Milk still does not offer projects/dependables/subtasks after all those requests. If you look at the requests forum, it is by far the most requested functionality.

My Pro account goes till 2012... if this functionality is not added I won't renew it. I love everything else in RTM but I hate to use all kinds of tricks to get basic GTD functionality. Please listen to your customers RTM!

If you don't want to clutter the interface/scare new users make it a setting i.e. 'turn on advanced features' that is disabled by default. Problem solved!

Posted 2 years ago

dibblethewrecker says:

task_name AND (due_date OR location)

Not to be unnecessarily pedantic but is that should be an XOR, no?

Posted 2 years ago

waldir.leoncio Pro says:

@ed.walked, franky99: sorry, but I don't even use Windows, let alone MS Outlook, so I can't help you there. But I'm glad you liked my idea!

@bill.fullel: I believe in that case one would have to manually search for the task and edit it. Locating it shouldn't be so hard unless that location is flooded with tasks.

@flewtist: you're very right, pre-working tasks are a problem with this system which every once in a while annoys me. As I've written earlier, if only RTM had start dates we could easily solve this.

@florisvaneck: I feel your pain, friend. I only use RTM to manage tasks, but I'm constantly flirting with other online tools. Apart from smart adds, I have seen no improvements on RTM since I started using it (and IMHO its not like they've reached a point where they can settle feature-wise).

@dibblethewrecker: you're right, it should be XOR.

@jelgie, jamie.pakos, kerrpe, evanmicahcollier, writing_under_the_stars: thank you so much for your support. I hope every RTM forum and blog reader can benefit from the idea and improve upon its flaws so maybe (just maybe) we can someday come up with the ultimate productivity system.

Posted 2 years ago

hyphenate says:

I'm just getting started with RTM, and I'm finding this post extremely helpful! The myriad of options (list, tags, locations) for different functions (projects, goals, contexts) is a bit overwhelming, and I've learned from experience that if interacting with a to-do list isn't easy enough to be sort of fun, I'm going to stop doing it...

Posted 2 years ago

evanmicahcollier says:

I recently went back to Doug's GTD approach. It's a more complex setup, but I really need the lists to reflect my projects. My mind just works that way. Still, I commend Waldir for pioneering his own application.

Posted 2 years ago

dazza17 Pro says:

Waldir this seems a great system, I am familiar with GTD but not ZTD so I may be missing a few ZDT coincepts.

@ Agenda eg: next time I see Rhonda talk to here about the list of these things... how you u ad that task?

Regarding the tags, cloud are a great feature of RTM and I noticed location tags are larger and bold. I am like a few on here that used lists and tags rather than locations. During my conversion to this method I noticed the tag cloud has small and large tags of the same name eg list home and location home. I presume once u delete list home the smaller home tag will disappear leaving just the home location?

How do you tackle runway, 10,000, 20,000 etc feet categorizing?

I take it with the dependable ^review_date takes care of you weekly review?
Do you find ur adding more task pertaining to that one dependant task at that review stage eg: doing a brain dump on just that one Task?

re @bill.fuller #personsname may solve this issue but the original task whould have to have @phone #personsname.

Waldir can you explain your workflow here when on your days list "call bob re appontment ^today" comes up. Will you also have you @phone list there just incase you want to knock of a few more of them or stick to your today list.

Thanks Daryl

Posted 2 years ago

isaacab Pro says:

Valdir,

I use your system for about 6 weeks, and it simply revolutionized the way I handle tasks. It is incredible how powerful this system is.

Your system, even though excellent, was missing one part for a person like me. I manage about 30 people in the IT field, inhouse and several locations overseas. A big part of my work if to ensure things are getting done by those people. Additionally, we use lots of Cloud services, which means lots of relationship with 3rd party guys which I also need to follow up with them.

Now I'm using Jira for corporate tasks-management, so every task has a link, which is also added to those followup tasks. But with the thousands of tasks in Jira it gets easy for tasks to get lost, even with the amazing Jira Filter system.

This led me to the following addition to your system:
A task that is just a followup with another person, I tag it with "#push". Then I have another list "Push Today" which obviously goes for "dueBefore:tomorrow AND tag:push". So my "Today" list contains real work I have to do, while "Push Today" is a large collection of following up with people, which is mostly emails/calls/Jira-comments which are done in 1 big time chunk and I'm done.

This helps me keeping my "Today" list for pure work.

Thanks loads for your system! you took my productivity to a complete new level. God bless you!

Posted 2 years ago

isaacab Pro says:

..and I forgot to mention this:
When I start my day, I mark all tasks in the "Push Today" list with priority!1. Once I followed up I postpone the task, except in case another followup is needed today. In that case, I change the priority to !2 [if a 3rd round is needed I use the !3 priority]. This helps me to know which followups were done once or twice.

Additionally, in my "Today" list I have all my work tasks as well as personal tasks [as GTD obligates]. So when I start my day I mark all my personal tasks which must be done after working hours with priority!3, all tasks which must be done in the afternoon with priority!2, and all the rest with priority !1. This way, I have a clear roadmap for the day, so I can focus until noon on "today's tasks that must be done in the morning", without getting distracted from all the noise of the other tasks. This is a little weird usage of the priority field, but it works great for me...

Posted 2 years ago

waldir.leoncio Pro says:

@dazza17: you're correct, the ^review_date automatizes the review process. Regarding your other questions, I'm afraid I didn't understand them. Would you be so kind to clarify them?

@isaacab: reading your comment really made my day, thanks for stopping by. Indeed, I use RTM to manage only my own productivity, I have never used the sharing tasks feature they provide, so naturally my system lacks development on that matter. Your addition is very interesting, and I think it helps with this issue. Thank you for the contribution!

Posted 2 years ago

gordonzano Pro says:

As a newbie of RTM I appreciate this articulately written method.
Like other people's experiences, I was a bit lost when I first started using RTM, but quickly, with articles like this, I am honing a good system that suits my workflow.

I see a number of people express the need for better sub-task or dependent task management. When there are a just a small number I achieve this by just adding them to the notes of the parent task.

Another rule of thumb one can use is that if a task has more than say 10 sub tasks, then devote a list ("Project") to it.

PROJECT (or whatever you group your big task list by) = LIST
TASK = TASK
SUB-TASK/DEPENDENCY = TASK NOTE

Posted 2 years ago

leibym Pro says:

Thanks
@waldir and @isaacab mixing both of your ideas helps me "big time"....

Posted 1 year ago

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